They say the Howling Sea is a collection of humanities tears, and on days like this one I can’t help but believe it.
— HANNA ITO, TO ERIK
Hanna’s heart clutched with sorrow as she slammed the anteroom door in Erik’s face. The hallway blurred. She blinked away tears and ran. It was happening again, betrayal and lies. Her green slippers smacked against the hard stone, echoing with each frantic palpitation. The torches that adorned the walls were a collection of moon shards, cold enough to freeze magma into ice, distant enough that their chill was barely perceived.
Hanna looked over her shoulder, her arms swelling with goosebumps. The door flew open, and Erik erupted into the hallway, his green eyes wild with grief. He gave chase.
“Hanna!” he cried.
She shuddered and turned back around, almost running into a wall. She caught herself and ran faster. The air dragged at her dress, slowed her steps. She hiked it up in her hands and exposed her stocking leggings to the empty corridor. Her modesty was the last thing on her mind at the moment. All she wanted to do was get away from the man that broke her heart.
Hanna took a sharp corner, gasping, tears slipping from her eyes. A part of her knew it would always end this way. She did not deserve a happy ending. Happy endings were only found in story books. In the real world, it all ended the same way, in blood and tears.
“Hanna!” Erik’s distant voice called.
Her legs gave out, and she fell scraping her knees. Wincing, she got back up and ran on, her heart near the point of bursting. The hallway narrowed. Walls caught at her dress, tore strips out of a once beautiful work of high fashion. But the dress did not matter. Nothing mattered but getting away from the man she loved.
Heart pounding, she took a right turn and came to a dead end. She spun back frantic. Erik stood blocking her way.
“I can explain,” he was saying. “Why won’t you listen. Just listen!”
“I don’t want to hear your lies.” She backed up against the wall. “I gave you a chance.”
“No, you just ran away.”
Hanna snarled. “Leave me alone. Go away.” She fell to her knees, blocking her exposed flesh the best she could with her hands, but there were too many rips in her dress. “All you had to do was tell me what the letter said. That’s all. But now everything is ruined. Don’t you understand what you’ve done?”
Erik took Hanna’s head in his hands and kissed her forehead. She tried to push him away, but his arms were like blocks of iron. His strength, her weakness made her hate her feeble limbs.
“Stop,” she said.
“You’re so beautiful,” Erik whispered, his voice harsh with need, with hunger. “So, so beautiful.”
She struck him in the chest, and he pushed her onto her back. Dread clawed at her sense of control. This could not be happening. Not again. Not by Erik, the man she loved. She choked on her disgust and disappointment.
Hanna shut her eyes. “Please, Erik, don’t do this. Please!”
Hard hands tore at her dress, ripped fabric with every tug. Something was pinning her arms against the cold floor, no matter how hard she struggled she could not break free.
“Did you miss me, my sweet?” an alien voice asked, half Erik’s own, half another’s.
Hanna froze. The voice made her body tremble from whips of terror. She knew it, remembered it from her nightmares. She opened her eyes to Saxi staring down at her with his bloody member in his hand, leering, laughing. A gust of air flared his tattered red cloak behind him.
No longer was she in the hallway. She was back in the Great Mrethren’s chamber. Large bug-like creatures with bodies like glowing lanterns hovered near the ceiling, illuminating the massive maggot-like creature peering at Hanna with the face of an old woman.
No. No. This could not be possible. She could not be here again. Not here with these monsters.
“Answer me, whore,” Saxi said, striking her across the face.
Her cheeks stung, and her ears rang. She whimpered. All around her stood naked Dökk. Gray hands touched, caressed, and pinched her.
Hanna awoke with a jolt, screaming, flesh crawling with the sensation of a hundred rough hands roaming her body. For an instant all was confusion, then she blinked. Erik sat beside her on the bed, shirtless, a hand on her shoulder and look of concern marring his features.
“It’s all right. Hanna. Hanna,” he cooed, his voice soft and soothing.
Hanna jerked upright, her skin still crawling. The dream had seemed so real. Erik pulled her into a hug, and she shuddered, sucking air through her mouth in gasps. No matter how strong she thought she was, it always came down to this, with her needing to be saved or consoled by Erik. When did I become so weak? She pushed him from her and used her training to seize control of her emotions.
“That’s it.” He rubbed her back. “Just breathe.”
“Don’t touch me,” she said through gritted teeth.
He dropped his hand from her and turned his back to her. He gazed into the fireplace, which blazed with fat logs. “I wish you would let this go.”
“There is nothing to let go,” she said, her words belied by the iciness of her tone. She took another deep breath and force warmth into her voice. “We all have our secrets. You don’t need to share yours with me.”
Erik shook his head. “It’s not like that, Hanna. If you want to know that bad what the letter said . . . I’ll . . . I’ll. . . .” His voice drifted off, and his shoulders slumped.
Hanna waited, listening to the budding storm raging outside the arrow-slits, and the soothing crackling of the fire. She threw herself back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling, her hand on her chest. Her heart still raced, albeit at a slower pace. They had come so far, Erik and her, but it seemed their relationship had reached an impasse.
Perhaps Cecilia was right, he doesn’t truly love me. Maybe to him, I’m just another conquest. Her hand twitched on her chest. I don’t believe it. I can’t. He loves me. He does.
The naked desperation of her thoughts made her queasy. She often laughed at the lies women told themselves to justify their emotions, but now their lies and her thoughts sounded all too similar.
“You were dreaming about what happened to you below the mountain, weren’t you?” Erik turned to face her, the tears on his cheeks glistening in the faint light. “I wished I could have spared you that horror. I wished I got to you quicker. All I want to do is protect you. If this doesn’t make sense to you, know it’s for that reason.”
“The large the walls the weaker the person.”
He frowned. “What?”
“Something my mother said to me once.” Hanna sat up. “I don’t need you to protect me, Erik. Not from the truth.”
“You say that, yet. . . .”
Hanna grimaced. “You don’t understand me at all, do you? I’ll make you pay for this, I won’t be able not to. It’s my nature. When you least expect it, I’ll make you regret this betrayal.” She felt moisture spring to her eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I won’t be able not to. I repay ever slight in kind.”
“I know.” He reached out to her and dropped his arm.
Erik climbed off the bed, and a blue robe sprang from his naked flesh. He studied it for a moment, and it rippled, transformed into an elegant green robe. Hanna blinked. If she was not mistaken, that was the same robe he had worn when he went hunting in the Northern Reaches, the day he died.
He turned to her, his look of wonder slipping from his face when he caught sight of her expression. Despite all his power, in some regards, he was very much still a little boy. Her little boy. The thought wounded.
Hanna’s eyes stung with a blistering ache, and she whimpered in her a throat. She pushed down on the voice and turned the whimper into a growl, turned her heartache into hatred.
Erik took a step back.
Men are greedy, if you let them they will eat you, her mother’s words.
Hanna glared at him. “I’m not one of your whores, Erik Ito, you won’t use and discard me. Do you understand me? Do you!”